Point-of-care device may upend traditional thyroid cancer screening methods

A group of international researchers has developed a point-of-care device that may produce a consistent and cost-effective screening method for thyroid nodules. 

The team will present its project, “Laser and Ultrasound Co-analyzer for Thyroid Nodules” or LUCA, at the OSA Biophotonics Congress: Optics in the Life Sciences meeting taking place April 3 to 6, according to a news release from The Optical Society.

Currently, screening methods for thyroid cancer involve an initial ultrasound with poor sensitivity and resolution. If an abnormal nodule is detected, a fine needle aspiration biopsy is typically performed to determine malignancy. These tests often produce inaccurate results that may lead to unnecessary surgeries.

"The problem is in the poor specificity of the current approaches which leads to a significant number of unnecessary biopsies and surgeries," said Turgut Durduran, the project coordinator and professor at the Institute of Photonic Sciences, in Spain. "Unfortunately, current imaging or screening modalities are not able to distinguish malignant nodules from benign nodules with a good specificity."

The LUCA project uses near-infrared time-resolve spectroscopy (TRS) and diffuse correlation spectroscopy (DCS) to collect tissue data. According to the release the new method cuts the device cost by 10 to 15 times the standard DCS laser system. Similarly, the TRS component is about five times cheaper than commercial equivalents.

While the new technology has yet to be tested in a large patient population, authors believe they’ve seen good evidence it can have a meaningful impact.

“In a pilot study, the mere fact that the ultrasound screening was carried out next to our measurements identified a malignant nodule in a healthy, young volunteer, and we have seen that many nodules that went all the way to a surgery turned out to be benign” said Durduran.